Friday, April 8, 2011

Film Costume: Cleo From 5 To 7 (1962)

By Justina Lee

"Cleo From 5 to 7" recounts the two hours before the French singer Cleo, believing that she has cancer, obtains her medical reports. The movie touches upon death, upon existentialism, upon despair, yet it also begins with a stunning costume: the attractive Cleo in a body-hugging, polka-dot dress. The silhouette is decidedly feminine: form-fitting above the waist, it accentuates Cleo's hourglass figure. The femininity of the costume echoes with the movie's questions of the perception of women. Throughout the movie, Cleo is eager to look her best, as seen from the ubiquity of mirrors. As she notes at the beginning, beauty defies death. The glamor of the costume thus empowers her as she confronts death.

From the waist below, the dress has A-line shape. As she walks down the street after hearing the tarot card reader's ominous revelations, her skirt flutters in the wind, almost as if she is in flight. This image is reminiscent of Cleo's earlier remarks on beauty when she compares herself to a butterfly. Indeed, with the polka-dot pattern and the fluttering skirt, she resembles a beautiful butterfly flitting through the city.

The polka dot pattern was also especially popular during the 50s and the 60s. The choice of this pattern can also be reflective of Cleo's desire to cling onto the present as she contemplates her imminent death.

But ultimately, below this glamorous costume lies the question of the meaning of life. Do we live to impress others with our beauty? Does beauty mask our inner selves? The costume effectively communicates these questions.

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